The Love Connection

First in the series called Making Good Connections.
Delivered February 1, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Sermon Text:
1 Corinthians 13

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding going or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. IF I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Let’s pray. Thank you God for this Word, and we pray that you will open our eyes up to the things that are important for us and for any things that are said that are not important to us. We pray that we just leave those things alone. We thank you for this your Word in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, I love chocolate. I really do. I love spicy food too. I am from south Louisiana and I like spicy food, but I don’t usually like chocolate and spicy foods together, except in a moliase sauce. A moliase sauce might go all the way back to Maya or Aztec culture. It’s used as unsweetened chocolate and spices and it makes a beautiful sauce and you put it over poultry and you get that in Mexico particularly in the Yucatan area I have seen it. It’s wonderful stuff. I do like chocolate and spices together in moliase sauce. I love moliase sauce.

I also love science magazines. There is nothing better than to think about quanta-mechanics and quarks and quasars after a hard day of working with people. I love science magazines. I love my wife. And I love you and before this gets sickly sweet and we all stand up and sing Kumbaya I want to tell you why I am talking about this whole thing about love. It’s because each time I use that word, I use it differently. We mean all kinds of different things when we talk about love. I certainly have a different level of commitment and attraction to my wife than to my science magazines, but we use the same word. Love. And its really important to talk about things like this because outside of the church, well first of all inside of the church we are always talking about love. We say that God is love. We say that we are to love one another, but what do we mean when we say that? It’s particularly important because once we step outside of the church, the people who define our concept of love are people who write movies for example, or it might be magazine contributors, the columnist in newspapers. It might be the people who write romance books. For example, according to Harlequin Publishing House more than 180 million romance novels are purchased each year with Harlequin itself selling on average 5 1/2 books a second. Things like this affect our ideas about what love is. TV shows and movies. Sleepless in Seattle. You’ve Got Mail. Titanic. Friends. Dawson’s Creek. These things cannot but help affect us and some of our expectations that grow out of watching these things are good and some of them aren’t. So it’s important that we look to scripture to get an idea of what love really means.

Now, I just read the 13th chapter of the Book of Corinthians. They easily break down into three sections. The first section, verses 1-3 talk about the necessity of love. The second section, verses 4-7 talks about the character of love and the third section that begins around the 8th verse talks about the permanence of love. So the first thing we see here is the necessity of love. Love is essential. Paul originally wrote these words to a church that had all kinds of things going on. They were a growing church. They were a church full of people who knew their spiritual design and knew what their spiritual gifts were and were using those gifts. They had enough faith to pray big prayers and to expect big answers from God and yet at the same time they were a church that argued constantly. There were groups that felt superior to one another and they tolerated all kinds of immorality in their lives and in the lives of other people. To this complicated and conflicted Corinthian church Paul wrote that we could have all kinds of religious experiences. We can speak with the tongue of men and angels. We can have the gift of prophecy. We can fathom all kinds of mysteries. We can have faith that moves mountains. We can give all that we have to the poor and we can even give our lives in sacrifice and if we do not have love, it means nothing. So the first thing we learn about love is that it is essential. It’s not an option for a successful life. When it comes to relationships, anything minus love equals nothing. Zero. Love is essential.

But it’s the second section, this section that talks about the character of love that I think we need to give special attention. Twelve bachelors compete for the affections and attention of a woman on TV and gradually the group is widdled down to the point that there is only one. And so then there is this couple. At that point when it’s just the couple, what do they have in their relationship at that point? Is it love? E. Jean Carroll has written a new book. It’s called, “Mr Right, Right Now.” A six week formula for finding your choice of good men. Okay? I don’t know whether it is good advice or not, but okay, assume a successful fishing expedition and you’ve got a catch. What do you and Mr. Right have at that point? Is it love? At times like this we might use the word love, but when we do, what do we mean by it? It seems to me that most of the time we use the word love for relationships. We usually are thinking of romantic love and romance is good. But romance presumes some things. It assumes that the loved one is attractive and it assumes this incredible emotional intensity and energy so that the one who loves can’t help but pursue the one loved and serve them and that’s beautiful, but this idea of romantic love is a far cry from what Paul is talking about here because the love that Paul writes about is more than emotion. It’s a love that can even love the unlovable.

Now sometimes when we use the word love what we mean is tolerance, okay? Let everyone do what they want. You do your thing and I will do mine and this you know is a beautiful thing and it’s you know, this is love. But it isn’t. Tolerance is good, but it’s not the kind of love that Paul is talking about, because sometimes love demands change. If you live in a culture where people abandon babies just because they are female and they want a male child. Love. If you are living in that society might compel you to seek change. If you love someone who is having a problem with drug abuse, love may lead you to intervene and not just tolerate the behavior. C.S. Lewis said something to the effect that God loves us enough to accept us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way. So sometimes love demands change. So the love that Paul is talking about here is more than just tolerance. Sometimes love becomes a cause. You know we love humanity. We love the environment and so we stand in solidarity with a particular group of people and we wear wrist bands in protest and we boycott things and all of that might be good, but it isn’t the love that Paul talks about here, because the love that Paul talks about here is intensely personal. And so he even points out in verse 3 that we can give everything that we have to the poor; we can even give our lives to a cause. We can be deeply devoted to these bigger issues, but if we don’t have love it means nothing.

I once knew a person that kind of exhibited this sort of tension in their lives. There was a missionary that I knew who had a deep commitment to social causes. Every social cause in Japan, whether it was the prostitutes around air bases in Japan or whether it was the issues that had to do with parts of the society that were ignored and oppressed or the Koreans who weren’t considered full citizens. All of these causes this missionary pursued. But if you interacted with this person you always had the sense that they felt that they were superior, that they were better than you and to be honest they were even rude. This person was rude when you dealt with him. It was kind of like get out of my way if you are not doing something that I consider important right now and I had this experience repeatedly with this person. And so even though I respected the causes and the activism, I believe that in the area of love this person had a deficiency. Probably I did too in my response to that person.

John Lennon, years back, was having us all saying, “all we are saying is give peace a chance,” and he was at war with the Beatles. I mean they were just on a personal level, it was a shambles and they were calling the world to peace. That’s sort of dichotomy. Linus is an old Charlie Brown cartoon said something like this. “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.” Real love is more than a cause because real love interacts with the individual. Another picture we have of love deals with friendship. Men and women both have these kinds of friendships, but I am just going to take men as an example. You’re watching a movie or something and there is two guys. The only times that guys can admit this it seems on TV is when they are drunk, okay? They are at a bar, they are a little loose, and they have been talking and one of them is starting to realize that this other guy he really has been listening to me and we really have something in common and we really have some kind of level of understanding and so you know he kind of tears of little bit and “I love you man”. And then there is some kind of awkward you know hug or something, but we all experience that, that friendship that is so deep and touches us in such a way that we use the word love and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s not what Paul is talking about here. But Paul doesn’t let us guess what love is all about. He gets real concrete about expressing what love is about. So he talks in verse 4, he says love is patient. It can relax in the present. It doesn’t always grumble about the current state of affairs. It’s willing to tolerate slow change and its willing to try again. Love is patient. Love is kind. It’s warm. It’s sympathetic. It sees and feels the difficulty of the other person. It’s not cold and analytical. Love is kind. Love doesn’t envy. It doesn’t boast. It isn’t proud. There is no we/them, superiority in love. Love recognizes its own weaknesses and its own need for grace. It’s not rude. It avoids abrasive, inflammatory language. Love listens. Love is a dialogue and not a monologue. Love doesn’t treat a person like a family pet and scold them. It’s not easily angered. It’s more than putting a clamp on the tongue. Love works at that inner part of us and tries to deal with that inner part of us that gets angry too easily.

I think about a time that I was helping a person who was disabled and in a wheelchair, and I helped this person get up and down stairs and curbs and things like that, and when it was all over the person didn’t thank me and it bothered me. I started to get angry inside. Here I was being Johnny Do-Gooder and they don’t even thank me and I found out later that this person doesn’t thank anyone for help because he feels like most of the barriers that are in his way as a disabled person are because society has not accommodated their needs. So he never says thank you as a issue of principle. Now whether that’s loving or not, I am not going to worry about. What I am worried about is my response, because I got angry. We always have this sort of mixed experience even when we are doing something good and something bad is right there. Love is not easily angered. It always protects. It always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. In other words, love expects God to work and love is constantly hoping for change in people and love doesn’t give up after one good try. It’s going to try again and it’s going to try again and it’s going to try again. This is real love.

Now this is different than something that we hear as a bunch of celebrities talk on the Oprah Show. I mean, there are real things there, but there is something different about this. And it’s only this kind of love that’s going to stand the test of time. You see there is a part of us that really longs to be accepted this sort of way. To be secure in a love that can love us like this and there is a part of us that wants to love like this ourselves. There is a part of us that really wants to be big enough to love others with this sort of love. It’s an important thing. Sure we would like to be thought of as being athletic or funny or beautiful or brilliant, but underneath it all we want to know that if we do fail, if something does happen to us that we will still be loved. That’s why it is in the marriage vows. Isn’t it amazing, you are in this happy occasion of marriage and right in the vows you start talking about better or worse, richer or poorer that could happen, sickness and in health and so you imagine these terrible scenarios right in the middle of the wedding and why do we do that? It’s because in this, these two people really want that security. Deep down inside we want to know that this can happen, that we can receive it and then we want to be able to give it too. And so there it is in the vows in a marriage ceremony.

But even though it is in a marriage, it’s much bigger. Love like this is much bigger than a marriage because in this passage Paul isn’t talking to married couples. He is talking to a church, and he is telling people within the church that this is the kind of relationships that you need to have. And this same principle applies toward any deep relationships we have outside of the church. This is the characteristic of real love wherever we experience it give it. It’s even true in our relationship with God. God loves us like this. God is patient with us. God is kind to us. He is not easily angered with us. These things are true. If we put Jesus’ name instead of love in this passage, Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind, Jesus doesn’t envy, we see a picture of the kind of life that Jesus lived and so we have this assurance that this is the way God loves us. So that means that God accepts us right now as we are, but God loves us enough to not leave us there. He wants us to change.

So do you feel like God has given up on you? Love tells us impossible. God will persevere in his love for us. But since he wants us to change, one of those areas he would like us to change is for us to love like this. So that’s the other part of this, is that we are called to love. To love like this. And so I would like to give you an assignment. It might be one that you have already done sometime, but you take this passage and instead of putting Jesus’ name in there, put your own name in. It goes like this. John is patient. John is kind. John doesn’t envy. It starts to get painful after a while and write it down and then think about it and look at that list and say where have I succeeded? Where have I manifested love in this way in the recent past? And when you think about an area like that, think about why was I successful. Was it because you read a Bible verse and it was on your mind and you saw this opportunity? Was it because for a change you weren’t quite as busy as normal? And so you noticed somebody you would have ignored otherwise. Why is it that we succeeded? Now there is probably things on this list that make you wince, as well. Why is that? What is it in us that constantly makes us fail when it comes to loving? So we need to do a little soul searching. If we are thinking about the issue of relationships and if we are thinking about how important these are in wanting to grow in these relationships no matter how we experience them, whether we are married or not, whether we are young or old we need to look at ourselves and look at how we love. Will we talk like I said earlier about other things, but none of them will be more important than this issue of love.

And that’s what we celebrate at this table. This is a table that shows us just how far love will go. God loved us so much that while we were still enemies Christ died for us. He gave his only begotten son, that whoever would take advantage of this and believe in him won’t have to perish but can have an eternal relationship and purposeful life with him. We celebrate at this table love. We celebrate the vertical relationship we have with God. God loves us this much. This is how secure we are. Jesus died for us before we were his friends. Now that we have responded in some kind of way, how much more can we expect from the love of God? And it’s also a time to celebrate our relationships with one another, because we are all going to take a piece of this and we are going to dip and that’s means that we are all part of one family. One family whom God loves this much and he then is saying love one another as I have loved you.

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you for these gifts of this table and for the big gift that stands behind it. Jesus Christ. Lord, who gave himself for us and that in Him we now have a relationship with you that can deepen and go on forever. We thank you that you accept us, that you accept us the way these words in 1st Corinthians tell us. This deeply, but we thank you too that you are out to work in our lives, to make us like you. And so we pray that you will do this work in us even as we use the words that you taught us, Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.